As early as 1843 Richard Wagner had set out to be both composer and librettist of his operas, gradually becoming both regisseur and scenic designer of his works, and acting as complete creator of his Gesammtkunstwerke.

In the first page of the score of Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner offers the following detailed description of what he envisioned as the scenic picture for the opening of his opera:

“Steep rocky shore…The sea occupies most of the stage…The rocks in the foreground form gorges on both sides… severe storm… Daland’s ship has just anchored close to the shore… the crew is busy… Daland has gone ashore… climbs on a rock and looks inland to see the area…The ship of the Flying Dutchman, with black masts and blood-red sails, shows itself in the distance, and approaches the coast with great speed. It docks on the opposite side of the Norwegian ship. With a terrible noise, the anchor on the chain sinks… The Dutchman goes ashore.”

Sparing the reader most of the inexplicably capricious details added by stage director Oliver Py’s to his 2015 staging for Vienna, I will single out just a few: a large bit of graffiti spelling the word Erlösung (Redemption) on the side of a wall… a male ballet dancer listed as “Satan” dressed in leotards, bare-chested, wearing a mask, prancing around the stage heralding and hounding the Dutchman, huge skulls and dancing skeletons, as in a Mexican Dia de los Muertos festivity.

There are no spinning wheels for Senta and her girl friends, who are first encountered as the sopranos and altos of the local glee club rehearsing for an upcoming concert.

Absent are Wagner’s requested sea, rocks, storm, ships… Absent too are the costumes that would be worn by weather-beaten Norwegian sailors. Instead, Daland and his crew, the Dutchman and his looking like employees of a provincial bank, are dressed in a variety of trench coats, bowler hats, and business attire.

And the female chorus, Senta, and Mary are clad in basic black.

Erwartung (Expectation) is shown as graffiti on a wall at the end of this masquerade – a good thing to hang on to, with our earnest expectation that in the future Naxos does not waste its resources on this awful a production.

The singers survive to tell, with baritone Samuel Youn leading the cast as a sonorous Dutchman, Ingela Brimberg an impressive Senta, Lars Woldt a solid Daland, and tenors Bernard Richter and Manuel Gunther both effective in their supporting roles. Marc Minkowski conducts with authority Les Musiciens du Louvre.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com